n the slopes of Mount Subasio, just outside the walls of Assisi, St Francis (1181-1226) and his fellows established their first home in the caves around the Eremo delle Carceri.

The word Carceri is indicative of the idiom of that time where “se carcerare” (incarcerate yourself) was synonymous with voluntary segregation from the world to allow God, in silence and prayer, to find a free space in the human heart.


St Francis arrived at this remote place in the forest in 1205, settling alone in a cave to pray and do penance.

At the time, the only building there was a small oratory dating back to the 12th century.

Soon Francis was joined by his first companions: Leone, Antonio da Stroncone, Bernardo di Quintavalle, Egidio, Silvestro and Andrea da Spello, who found isolated caves nearby in which to settle.

When the friars gathered for common prayer, they used the oratory that still exists today.

The area around the oratory and the oratory itself were donated to St Francis by the Benedictines who had received it in turn from the town of Assisi.

Eremo delle carceri - grotta Frate Leone
Eremo delle carceri - Altare


Near the cave of St Francis there is a centuries-old holm oak tree where many mistakenly believe that St Francis’ sermon to the birds took place. In reality, historical sources attest that it took place outside the municipality of Assisi and in particular at Piandarca in the municipality of Cannara.

Tradition has it that the gorge near the monastery is actually the bed of a river, now dried up, whose waters were drained by Saint Francis because they disturbed his meditation and that of his disciples.

In the cave of St Francis, there is a hole in the ground from which one can glimpse the bottom of the gorge. It is said that this was caused by the devil, who sank into the abyss when he was driven out by Rufino, one of St Francis’ first companions.


Over the following centuries, several buildings were added around the cave of St Francis and the original oratory, forming the complex that exists today.

Today, the Sanctuary of Eremo delle Carceri is guarded by five Friars Minor to welcome the many pilgrims who come to pray and visit the place or to celebrate with their priests. Liturgical animation, punctuates the various moments of the day, offering the faithful the opportunity to pray together with the religious community. In the Sanctuary’s activities, the friars are assisted by the Clarist Franciscan Missionaries of the Most Blessed Sacrament, present since 1980 with a fraternity of three sisters.